3 Reasons You Should Learn to Appreciate Soccer (even if you don’t like it)

soccer

Soccer is the sport many Americans love to hate. Whether you think it’s boring, inferior as a sport, you hate the “flop”, or just tired of the rabid fútbol evangelists (who are often more persistent than Sam-I-am and his green eggs and ham), soccer is a sport which many people just refuse to like. I am not going to ask you to like soccer. I’ll leave it to the true fans to champion its merits. Let me suggest, however, that you move from vocal antagonist of soccer to at least an appreciation of the sport. Here are three missional reasons to do so:

1. To be part of the global community. While we live in an increasingly global world, the major American sports are local in their appeal. Basketball, football, baseball, and hockey are mostly American sports with a few Canadian teams and a handful of international players. In contrast, soccer has a worldwide appeal and is a truly global professional sport. If you can speak the language of soccer, you are speaking a nearly universal language. When you participate in soccer, you are part of something bigger – a widely popular phenomenon in which the majority of the world participates. As we encourage believers to become “world Christians,”[1] soccer provides a starting place to move from a local to a global mindset.

2. To have a natural bridge for building relationships across cultures. When I was an industrial chaplain for OTR truck drivers, I found it difficult at times to find a bridge to build relationships with a group of men who had little in common with me. A breakthrough happened when I learned to talk fishing and hunting. I could always talk about the outdoors. The men were eager to teach me their skills, take me on expeditions, and even help me with my boat. Fishing and hunting gave me a way to connect and build relationships with men with whom I had little else in common. In a similar way, soccer is a natural bridge for building relationships with people of other nationalities and cultures. Want to engage your international/ethnic students with American students at summer camp? Hold a soccer match. Want an instant following of children on a mission trip? Get out a soccer ball. Need a way to open a conversation with an international student at your university? Ask them about the World Cup. A hatred of soccer will close doors for you that an appreciation of soccer might open.

3. To shed your ethnocentrism. Many of the American cultural values that are exemplified in other sports are missing from soccer.  A big reason soccer continues to have a difficult time creating a fan base in the US is because the values portrayed in sports like baseball and football are distinctly Western and American values. If you’re like me, you find soccer inferior to just about every other American sport. But if I break that down, mine is really an ethnocentric point of view. Clinging to the idea that American sports are superior to soccer is in fact a belief that American culture is superior to other cultures around the world. In order for me to appreciate soccer, I must learn to appreciate the some of the cultural values that make it so popular – values that may be different than those of my own culture.[2] And, shedding my ethnocentrism is a first step to effectively ministering across cultures. If nothing else, gaining an appreciation of soccer may be a practical way to follow the example of Paul. “I have become all things to all men that by all means I might save some.”

In the end, I had to do a critical self-evaluation of my soccer-bashing spirit. I had to ask myself, “Would you willing to give up your dislike of soccer for the cause of the gospel?” For now, I will strive to gain an appreciation for the sport loved by so many around the world. Who knows? Maybe someday I might come to even like it.

What about you? Do you think soccer can be an avenue toward becoming a more missional Christian?

 

Read more by Todd Benkert at behiswitnesses.com


[1] See especially, “The Cross and the World Christian” in Don Carson’s, The Cross and Christian Ministry

[2]I’m speaking here of differences like individual vs. group orientation, time vs. event, etc. For a primer on these types of cultural differences, check out Lanier, Foreign to Familiar or Lingenfelter and Mayers, Ministering Cross-Culturally

Comments

    • says

      You might not love English football as I call it for my kids’ sake but you get the big picture. Thanks for your article.

      As a salesman interacting with people from many countries I can attest that soccer more than any other sport is a kind of universal language. Being conversant in the EPL and Champions League will give you a unifying topic for most of the year.

      Two Sundays ago we laid hands on a brother with serious back trouble at the end of our church service. A few prayed as they were led. We are a small church in Northern California and we have some ethnic diversity. We had a prayer in Spanish and Hindi along with a few in English. When I heard Pablo praying in Spanish my heart soared. I understood some of it but to hear prayers to our Lord in three languages was wonderful.

  1. Tarheel says

    Todd,

    Interesting post. I recently have moved from “hater” to….well not “lover”….but lets say a “liker” of soccer. My son taking an interest in it has played a huge role in that.

    I also like how you linked it to missions…everywhere I have ever been on missions (stateside and international) soccer (kids and adults) has been very popular and it is popular here where I live as well..especially among kids.

    I agree that soccer is a huge ministry tool that too many refuse to embrace.

    If I can can move from “soccer hater”, anyone can. LOL

  2. says

    It’s changed since then, but when I went to Asbury College (now Asbury University) back the ’70s, the only intercollegiate sport Asbury participated in was soccer. Why? The school had a fairly large population of MKs, who had grown up on the mission field and therefore grown up playing soccer. There were plenty of players available to put together a team.

  3. says

    Sports can be a bridge. I once preached as part of a crusade in Cuba right after they had won the World Baseball Championships. On a personal day for our mission team, I had purchased about 20 baseball bats at a market and brought them back to the town in which we were ministering. When we gave them to the kids, that town opened up. It not only opened the door for the word, but left a lasting impression. That said, I’m glad Cuba loves baseball ;-)

  4. andy says

    I may someday change my view on Election. I may someday alter my preferred mode of baptism. But I will never give up my love of soccer.

  5. says

    First off, its Football not soccer (yes I know soccer is slang for associational football, but being only Americans call it that now of days lets just call it what it is!). American “football” only 1 player per play can touch the ball with their feet, you primarily use your hands. In REAL football, it is a foul to touch the ball with your hands (with 2 exceptions, the goalie in his box, or a player throwing it in from touch), all players primarily use their feet. American football is closer to a weak man’s rugby rather than to “soccer”.

    But I can also attest to the international interest in football. At seminary we had several men from overseas coming to our school. Each one of them was interested in football. And rain or shine, if you yelled in the men’s dorm that you were putting together a game, you would get nearly a dozen guys showing up in cleats, socks and their favorite teams kit. It was a great way to fellowship. I only wish I personally was in shape to be able to participate with them.

    • Andy says

      True, When I was at SBTS, we would have about 12-18 guys playing soccer on the green every friday afternoon. Good times. Probably about half of them were internationals students.

  6. Dave Miller says

    This post is a “flop.”

    Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun.

    Good stuff, Todd.

    • Greg Harvey says

      There was an attempt to characterize “writhing time” during the group round that demonstrated teams that benefited from writhing–ahead of score or pushing for a draw–had roughly twice the cumulative floppage time as teams pressing to equalize.

      I think this is hilarious. Especially given the overwrought descriptions of the sport as “the beautiful game”. Not that it isn’t, but generally speaking flops are disdained as inherently clunky. Those and the amateur hour that is penalty kicks…

  7. David Rogers says

    Todd,

    Great missiological insights. Just like I once built a cage on the top of my house in Spain to house a couple of carrier pigeons in order to have a platform to build a relationship with my neighbor who was in to carrier pigeons and wanted to give me a pair of them, I also made an intentional point to learn more about soccer and to watch the matches in order to better be able to make small talk with all the Spanish men who lived and breathed soccer—even though otherwise I had little motivation to be interested in soccer.

    As missionaries, we must become all things to all in order to win some. And if we are going to make an impact for the gospel in the increasingly secular environment in the States, we must think and act like missionaries. This post is a great example of what that means in everyday life.

  8. Bart Barber says

    I pretend to like soccer when I’m in Senegal, but I really don’t care what happens to you guys, so I’m honest here.

  9. says

    How many of you guys do this with NASCAR? I’ve never been a car or race guy but have learned to at least follow it to be able to find some common ground with folks